Larry Nassar, the disgraced former USA Gymnastics doctor, has pled guilty to 10 counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct. In his sentencing hearing he presented the judge with a lengthy letter asking to be excused from having to listen to the testimony of his victims, citing that hearing them retell their stories would be too difficult for his own mental health.
Nassar took a plea deal, and part of the deal was that all of the 135 women who have accused him would get the chance to both face him and share their stories with the court. His letter is a cowardly attempt to silence these women, to once again remove their power and re-victimize them, and shows that he continues to center his needs as the most important part of this tragic situation.
Nassar’s lengthy career placed him in a position of power and trust over children. He joined the USA Gymnastics team as an athletic trainer in 1986, and worked his way up in the organization, gaining increasing amounts of both autonomy and trust. By 1994 the first allegations of abuse were recorded against him, by a future Olympic gold medalist. During this time, Nassar completed his residency to become a family practice doctor, and began treating athletes for USA Gymnastics for medical issues.
He not only violated the trust that parents and other coaches had in him as a trainer, but the faith they had in him as a doctor. He couched his abuse of the dozens of children he molested as medical treatments, and violated many of them for years at a time. Nassar victimized children as young as six years old, and was also indicted for possession of child pornography, with a collection of some 37,000 images and videos of children being sexually abused on his computer.
This is not a case of someone who was caught once, with few details of wrongdoing, but rather a lengthy, well-documented case with an extensive list of crimes and victims who want their moment in court to confront their abuser. Nassar should be ashamed not only of what he originally did to these girls when they were children, but what he continues to try to do to them now in his attempts to silence them. Women who want to stand up and face the person who abused and harmed them, who want this to be part of the public record, deserve this chance, and it is heinous that he is incapable of any true empathy for them.
Nassar is not the victim in this case, no matter how he tries to portray himself, and he will have years of tax-payer funded therapy to work through any emotions that listening to the testimony will bring up. Judge Rosemarie Aquilina, for her part, refused his request, and ruled the women will be able to continue with their testimony, and Nassar will have to be present.
“You may find it harsh that you are here listening,” she said in her explanation for refusing his request to be removed from the proceedings. “But nothing is as harsh as what your victims endured for thousands of hours at your hands.”
So far 51 of his accusers have taken advantage of the opportunity to recount what Nassar put them through, and the court expects by the end of the hearings on Friday for more than 100 women to have testified. The women have shared that hearing the testimony of other survivors of his abuse has brought them both comfort and courage, and that is something he will never be able to take from them.
Nassar will have to live with the words and hurt of these women, and hopefully some of what they say will penetrate the delusional fantasies he wove in his own mind about his actions. Nassar, and the men like them, take the innocence and childhood of their victims and twist it for their own purposes.
Larry Nassar, and all those who molest children, need to realize and live with the full consequences of their actions, and that includes coping with the anger and disgust of their victims when those victims have the courage to stand up and share it. Let this be the beginning of his punishment for all of the wrongs he has done, and let it be part of the healing process for all of the women he has harmed.